Demonstrators attend a rally in support of Social Security

Demonstrators attend a rally in support of Social Security on February 24, 2023 in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

(Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Trustees Report Shows Social Security Expansion a 'Question of Values, Not Affordability'

"The trust funds are strong because most Americans contribute to them with every paycheck," said one advocate. "They could be even stronger if the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share."

The board of trustees for Medicare and Social Security released a report Friday showing the programs' trust funds will be able to cover all benefits and expenses until 2031 and 2034 respectively, findings welcomed by advocates as further confirmation that the key lifelines are strong and can be expanded.

Nancy Altman, president of the progressive advocacy group Social Security Works, argued in a statement that "the takeaway from this report is that whether to expand or cut Social Security's modest but vital benefits is a question of values, not affordability."

The board of trustees, which consists of top government officials including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, estimated that even if Congress doesn't act, Medicare's trust fund would be able to pay 89% of total scheduled benefits after 2031.

The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, meanwhile, would be able to pay 77% of scheduled benefits after 2033 in the absence of congressional action. The OASI Trust Fund had roughly $2.7 trillion in reserves at the end of 2022, according to the trustees report, while the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund had $118 billion in asset reserves.

If the OASI and DI trust funds are combined, the report notes, the resulting fund would be able to pay 100% of total scheduled Social Security benefits until 2034.

“Contrary to conservative claims, Social Security is not 'going bankrupt'; the program will always be able to pay benefits because of ongoing contributions from workers and employers," said Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. "This is yet another trustees report showing that Social Security remains strong in the face of turmoil in the rest of the economy. Its projected insolvency date has stayed roughly the same even after a global pandemic and recent economic upheavals."

Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, echoed that message, saying the trustees report proves the Social Security trust fund is "strong and solvent, with enough money to cover full benefits and expenses until 2033, one year earlier than reported last year."

"Further, the Medicare Part A Trust Fund for hospital care has sufficient funds to cover its obligations until 2031, three years later than reported last year," Fiesta added. "The trust funds are strong because most Americans contribute to them with every paycheck. They could be even stronger if the wealthiest Americans paid their fair share."

Richtman, Fiesta, and other advocates urged Congress to expand Social Security benefits by lifting the cap on income subject to payroll taxes.

The cap, which is $160,200 this year, allowed millionaires to stop paying into Social Security in late February, not even two full months into the year.

Skyrocketing inequality over the past several decades has meant that a larger share of earnings at the very top has been exempt from the payroll tax, costing the Social Security trust fund an estimated $1.4 trillion since 1983.

Last month, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would subject all income above $250,000 a year to the 6.2% payroll tax, a move the lawmakers said could fund a $200-per-month benefit expansion for all Social Security recipients.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said Friday that he will soon reintroduce separate Social Security expansion legislation.

"Now is the time to not merely protect but to also expand benefits that have not been addressed in over 50 years," Larson said in a statement.

Despite pressure from Sanders and other progressives, Biden did not include a Social Security expansion plan in his latest budget request, which did contain a proposal to shore up Medicare's trust fund by raising taxes on the rich.

Congressional Republicans, for their part, have floated unpopular proposals to slash Social Security benefits across the board by raising the retirement age and partially privatizing the program.

"Unfortunately, Republican politicians are not listening to their voters," Altman said Friday. "The most recent budget of the Republican Study Committee, which consists of about three-quarters of the House Republicans, includes deep cuts to both Social Security and Medicare. Other Republicans are trying to create fast-track commissions that operate behind closed doors, aimed at forcing cuts that would not be supported in the sunshine."

"To see the results of cutting earned retirement benefits through an undemocratic process, one only needs to look across the Atlantic Ocean, where the French people are rising up in anger," said Altman. "Congress should take action to expand Social Security and close the system's modest shortfall. Democrats have put their ideas on the table. Now, Republicans should do the same, so that Congress can debate Social Security's future in the light of day."

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